Time Runs Out for Cypriot Solution
Time Runs Out for Cypriot Solution
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Time Runs Out for Cypriot Solution

After April, the next phase of the dispute could be hostile partition.

Is it not a paradox, Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias asked in full rhetorical flight before the United Nations General Assembly last month, that Turkey should now have a seat on the U.N. Security Council? The apparent contradiction, of course, being that Turkish troops have occupied one third of Mr. Christofias's Mediterranean island country-a European Union member no less-for 35 years, despite U.N. resolutions demanding their withdrawal.

This is indeed an anomaly. But so is the fact that it was the Greek Cypriots in 2004 who opposed, and the Turkish side that supported, the U.N. plan that would have seen almost all those troops withdraw.

The paradoxes of Cyprus don't end there. Right now is the best chance in years to break through the half-century-old Cyprus deadlock. The current talks on a settlement between the Cypriot leaders are doing much better than is generally realized, but the time left to resolve these paradoxes is short. In April 2010, the pro-solution Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat faces an election. Absent the success on Cyprus that he promised to achieve, all the signs are that he will lose to a hardline candidate. If that were to happen, three decades of efforts to reunite the island on the basis of a bicommunal, bizonal federation would end. Indeed, for many, the old status quo ended in 2004, when Cyprus and the EU missed a big opportunity and Cyprus entered the Union as a divided island.

If by April the talks fail to achieve a collaborative settlement to deal with the island's problems, this new phase of the Cyprus dispute will be a sharp swerve toward hostile partition. If the two current like-minded leaders cannot achieve a settlement in the currently near-ideal regional climate, even the U.N. will not be willing to invest time, people and money on a fifth major round of negotiations on the same basis.

But cynicism and complacency mean that almost nobody takes the current negotiations seriously, even on the island. Both Turkish and Cypriot leaders want a realistic solution; but because Ankara and the Greek Cypriots have not talked directly for 40 years, neither believes the other side is genuine and neither has fully committed to compromise.

A failure to solve Cyprus would also doom deeper EU-NATO ties: Cyprus is a member of one organization and Turkey a member of the other; yet most EU countries have shown no support whatsoever for solving the dispute. Greek Cypriots are actually having to restrain some EU member-state leaders, who see in the Cyprus dispute a new way to close down Turkey's EU accession process. Worse, while the world has been worrying about big-power missile grandstanding around Iran and Russia, it is Athens and Ankara who have been actually stocking up on missiles in case growing frictions turn into frustrated anger. Watch this space: Gunboats and seismic survey ships have already been sparring over oil prospecting rights, with Turkey disputing territorial claims made by Greece and Greek Cypriots in the Mediterranean.

All sides will lose if the talks collapse. Greek Cypriots will suffer from greater insecurity, Turkish troops indefinitely on their doorstep, and a much-reduced chance of compensation for or restitution of property. Turkish Cypriots will see their community scatter or be driven into integration with Turkey. Ankara will lose the regional charisma and economic boon of having a real EU accession process. The EU will forego commercial opportunities in Turkey, sacrifice strategic depth in regional disputes and see a withering in the soft power that results from having Turkey anchored in an EU process and thus a convincing advocate when it speaks up for European values in meetings with Middle Eastern leaders.

It's therefore in the EU's interest to support the process, both by pressuring the two Cypriot leaders, and by reassuring Turkey that its accession perspective remains open if and when it meets all the objective criteria of European Union membership. And it is in Turkey's interest to live up to its reputation as a peace-making regional power, and reach out to the Greek Cypriots to make them believe that any settlement will be implemented with a speedy troop withdrawal, and that the resulting normalization will be beneficial and safe for all.

After more than three decades, all parties to this dispute have good reasons to believe that they are absolutely in the right. The real paradox is that so many rights have so far only added up to one big wrong.


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